Use our search engine




    Jaime Chávarri´s filmography can be distinguised by its variety rather than its cohesion. We are talking about fifteen feature films that appeared haphazardly over almost four decades, dealing -with erratic insistence, enthusiasm and perfectionism- with very different matters: from personal films without any clear generic basis, which aspire to a kind of signature autorship (Chávarri has said that Los viajes escolares, from 1974, and El río de oro, from 1986, are his only “signature- in inverted commas” films), to films of more easily recognisable genres, featuring above all literally adaptations, musicals, comedies and melodrams, in the midst of which we are surprised by a documentary and even a pornographic film.

    The uneven and changing physiognomy of Chávarri´s film is explained by the fact that his films, with rare exceptions, are the result of external initiatives (in other words, a producer, convinced of the film maker´s skill, gives him a commission). Hence, searching for non-existent guidelines and pointers, there are critics that have discerned geological layers or stages in his work depending on the producer putting his film into practice: after an initial period submerged in independent production, we first have the Querejeta segment, comprising a documentary (El desencanto, 1976) and two fictional films written jointly by Chávarri and the producer from Gipuzkoa (A un dios desconocido, To an Unknown God, 1977, and Dedicatoria, 1980); this stage is followed by the one with the producer Alfredo Matas, who backed two of his literary adaptations (Bearn o La sala de muñecas, Bearn or The Doll´s Room, 1982, and Las bicicletas son para el verano, Bicycles Are For The Summer, 1983) and a comedy (Tierno verano de lujurias y azoteas, 1993); a third stage deals with work done with the producer Luis Sanz, with musicals co-written by the latter and the filmmaker: Las cosas del querer (The Thing of Love, 1989) and its sequel with the same name in 1995.

    The inaneness of searching for Ariadne’s thread in this filmography -which came together depending on commissions received- is obvious from the case of El desencanto, a film that is different and unclassicable not only within Chávarri´s productions, which time and unanimous agreement by the critics have made the jewel in the crown of his considerable cinematographic production. It all started out with Elias Querejeta´s proposal to a group of directors that they make a series of short films that set themselves apart from what was being done in Franco’s Spain of death and destruction- a proposal to which only our director responded, with the innovative suggestion of making a documentary about a lunatic adylum. When the undertaking fails due to a lack of permits, Chávarri suggest doing a biographical sketch of the family of Leopoldo Panero (a pro-Franco, institutional poet who died in progresses, due above all to how overwhelmingly cinegenic his grieving outline of a possible feature-lenght film. Filmed between summer 1974 and winter 1975, in other words, right at the same time as the agony and death of the dictator, the film was released – after a thorough editing process- in September 1976: an improvisation that had become an eloquent photograph of that historic period.

    Basically put together from interviews, the fascination of El desencanto lies largely with its dramatis personae – that kind of quartet after death formed by Felicidad Blanc, the widow of the deceased patriarch-poet, and their three offspring, the quirky literati Juan Luis, Leopoldo María and Michi Panero. Highlighting their respective styles and their extremely singular way of seeing the world, these four inimitable figures tell the camera all about the individual and collective tear dividing this family with its exemplary appearance, making up an Oedipal psychodrama beyond the scope of the most versed scriptwriter. Whatever the reason, the merit and worth of this film lies not only in the subject matter (the Paneros’ turbulent inner story) and the acting by the cast (their priceless performance) — factors attributable in good measure to reality as it is a documentary— but in the sophisticated work of the film maker modelling certain effects of feeling into the source material that were not in the characters’ passionate speeches. Beginning with that pragmatic reflection à propos of the aesthetic basis of the documentary genre inherent to the metamorphosis of a film that starts out like NO-DO (we attend —assisted by a haughty, omniscient voice— the unveiling of the statue of Leopoldo Panero in Astorga, his native city) and, with no hope of continuity, chooses to first display in long set pieces with almost no editing, and later in an intricate mosaic, the interviews with the surviving Paneros (individually, in couples, even threesomes, but never the full quartet). In this way, the flight of the totemic father —who is taken out of focus by the film, allowing the director to centre on the children who deny him— is accompanied by the most radical disrespect for the canon that was adopted by film documentaries in the hands of the Franco Regime. We likewise owe to Jaime Chávarri the sharp sense of drama with which he handles the fragile figure of Leopoldo María Panero, whose lacerated testimony, in a fabulous twist, bursts dramatically onto the screen more than halfway through the film to bring to light —from the family dump— paternal brutality, brotherly hatred, terrible maternal misunderstanding, suicide attempts, prison and psychiatric internments, madness, dipsomania and drugs – the original thorns along his obstinate route to (self-)destruction that would make him an emblem of Spanish literary doom. Sliding the focus of attention from the father to the son named after him, we see a person who not only personifies —or almost physically embodies— the family’s unconscious with a psychoanalytical union of all the misery repressed by its members, but who also displays —with the vehemence of an Ecce Homo— the true legacy of his father. Another thing the director got right was the symbolic meaning acquired by the discouraging family peripetia of the Paneros as a metaphor for the frustration experienced after Franco’s death by certain sectors desirous of political change. Very specific decisions contribute to this effect of meaning: from the title of the film (desencanto, “disenchantment”, was the word used to describe that sensation of political pessimism and despondency) to the unmistakable comparison between the figures of Leopoldo Panero and the dictator, both ghostly presences that we do not see (Chávarri only shows us the poet’s statue not yet unveiled) but around whom the plot runs. In this way, the unfortunate Panero family becomes a revealing synecdoche for post-Franco Spain and its multifunctional trauma, with spectacular psychiatric ramifications in the case of Leopoldo María, in an expressive portrayal of the state of shock in which the country was submerged after almost four decades of silence. Arguments that clearly support the know-how of a director who not only managed to bring focus to projects that were not his own using his skill and ability, but also —often— with certain hints of genius. 

    Imanol Zumalde

    Professor (UPV/EHU)